Intelligence: The No. 1 Predictor of Career Success

Have you ever spent time talking to a coworker who got their position “from their parent having a country club friend”?  Maybe you secretly roll your eyes at that other professional buddy who managed to score their internship based on an Ivy League or prep school connection.  Don’t even get us started on the “my parent/sibling/uncle’s third brother in law works there” method that some people use to tout their work achievements.

Sure, networking and knowing the right people can certainly give you a helping hand when it comes to scoring a job.  It turns out, however, that it takes more than the right name or familial roll of the dice when it comes to moving up the company ladder.  

Questioning the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” research conducted by Professor Yoav Ganzach of Tel Aviv University’s Recanati School of Management suggests that intelligence really is the most important factor when it comes to success.  Ganzach writes that “when intelligence and socio-economic background are pitted directly against one another, intelligence is a more accurate predictor of future career success.” Here we delve further into Ganzach’s research and anecdotal evidence that suggests intelligence is actually the number one predictor of career success.  

How is Intelligence Measured?

We’ve probably all seen our fair share of links on your favorite social media platform that invites you to “test your IQ” or, better yet, that popular game show sitcom that challenges whether you’re actually smarter than an eight-year-old.  We’re not ones to put a damper on your entertainment parade, but as you might suspect, these amusing time wasters aren’t actually any indication of scientifically accepted intelligence measurement.

Traditionally, intelligence is measured by way of an Intelligence Quotient or IQ test.  IQ tests are standardized forms that ask the user to solve a variety of logic, word, spatial and mathematics puzzles, outputting a standard score based on the percentage of right versus wrong answers.  This is all fine and dandy, except when you consider that there are a variety of accepted IQ tests that can each generate wildly different scores depending on a test taker’s particular aptitude.

Increasingly, researches are also identifying ways to track and quantify emotional intelligence as a key indicator of a person’s overall smartypants ranking.  Theories focusing on the importance of emotional intelligence identify the ability of a person to recognize and control their emotions in stressful or everyday scenarios as a critical element to overall human intelligence.  The U.S. Armed Services has used various methods for identifying emotional intelligence levels when it comes to officer and recruitment drives.

In short, while the IQ score of a given candidate may be an important figure for social bragging rights, it certainly isn’t the only area in which a person can demonstrate overall aptitude.  Modern research believes that there are four types of human intelligence, all of which play an important role in success both in the home and in your career.

IQ and Career Success

So now that we’ve delved into the various ways that IQ and, more broadly, intelligence is measured, it’s time to lay out the correlation with career achievement.  In Ganzach’s study, the subjects’ statistics clearly demonstrated that what you knew had a vastly larger impact on what you achieved during your career than who you know before you ever started out.  Sure, those with well-connected families may have landed the highest paying entry-level positions, but the smartest performers quickly outpaced those who happened into their job by genetic lottery luck.

The reason for the results is easily applicable to the real world “makes sense” test.  Employees who perform better are more likely to be offered a raise or a promotion. When you’re on the job it’s what you’re capable of in the given position that is a predictor of how much you’ll achieve.

A recent Forbes articles on the topic of IQ and career success lays the results out well: “IQ tests are used as an indicator of logical reasoning ability and technical intelligence. A high IQ is often a prerequisite for rising to the top ranks of business today.”

While we don’t vote for skipping the next networking event or forgoing the opportunity to ask a friend or a relative if they have any connections, it turns out that any plus factors a person may have in the “well-connected” category quickly level the playing field if you are in the mental know!

Article Updated from the Original on September 18, 2018